Friday, January 24, 2014

War Watch January 24 , 2014 - Syria : Syrian Officials, Opposition to Meet at Geneva Talks ; Recent rebel in fighting kill nearly 1,400 ; major newspapers push bomb Syria agenda ..... Iran nuclear talks updates ...... Obama " disaagrees " with Oversight Report finding NSA telephone metadata program illegal , unconstitutional and totally unnecessary ; Snowden rules out return to US even as a purported plea deal is being trial ballooned ........ Obama's Drone Wars detailed..... Af- Pak news of the day - foreign workers shun restuarants in Kabul as the militants strike fear and instability raises its head , Pakistan faces rising tide of political instability from drone wars and resurgent fighting from militants..... Turkey lira continues to weaken as corruption scandal continues unabated....

Macro ......

Do Syria and Iraq still exist?

by   January 24, 2014
20th century borders are breaking down in the Middle East


Anti-government fighters moving towards their position during clashes with Iraqi security forces in the Anbar city of Fallujah on Jan. 21, 2014.
AFP/Getty Images
War-torn Fallujah is reportedly more in the grip of Al-Qaeda than at any time since the U.S. military secured Anbar province in 2007–08. The same strongman who lorded over the town after the first battles in 2004, Abdullah al-Janabi, has returned as the emir of the city of 300,000 — preaching at the mosque and establishing a “Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has ordered the Iraqi army to deploy around the perimeter of Fallujah along the Euphrates, 50 miles west of Baghdad, but he has decided against an offensive. Rather, the Maliki government is asking the neighboring Sunni tribes for help in dislodging the insurgents flying the black flag of Al-Qaeda. At the same time, Maliki has ordered the Iraqi army to attack the jihadists in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar, upriver from Fallujah, where local tribes are battling jihadist elements.
Maliki is also beseeching the U.S. for assistance. Secretary of State John Kerry has ruled out a return of U.S. combat forces to Iraq.
Despite these unsettling events, neither the fall of Fallujah to the jihadists nor the Ramadi battle with the jihadists is the most profound development in the region from the last months.  
Rather, the most important news is the birth of a new Arab state, called by Arab and regional observers the Emirate, or the Emirate of Iraq and Sham, or colloquially the Emirate of al-Jazira (the Arab heartland).
The newborn Emirate stretches from the west gates of Baghdad to the ruins of Aleppo in northwestern Syria. It is a blend of traditional and ideological elements that are struggling mightily for areas of influence within the vast landscape. Along the lower Euphrates between Ramadi and Fallujah, my sources tell me, Al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant are scrapping with the local tribes. In Syria, it is the jihadist Al-Nusra Front battling with the local Sunni tribes. Also in the mix are the regional minorities that fill the margins of the Emirate, such as the Kurds, the Druze, the Alawites, Ismailis, Christians and Jews.
The Emirate redraws the map by erasing the sovereign state borders created by the secret Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 between England and France and their subsequent division of the Ottoman Empire following its defeat in World War I.
For example, there is no more border between Iraq and Syria, my sources tell me. Iraq, Syria and Lebanon are disappearing as coherent centralized states. Jordan’s borders have vanished to the south, east and north, and only the Israeli potency maintains the border to the west. 
The new Emirate makes a mockery of the U.S. aim to negotiate a peace treaty to solve the Syrian civil war. Syria no longer exists. 
Along the north of the Emirate, the Kurdistan consolidation defines a buffer from the Shias of Iran. Along the south of the Emirate, the Arabian Peninsula is fracturing into tribal confederations. The Buraida tribe to the northwest of the peninsula has largely detached from Riyadh’s authority. The central tribes look to Israel and others (Egypt, Russia) for military support.
The Emirate creates surprising facts on the ground that may define the immediate and distant future.
The rising in Iraq’s Anbar province is driven by extreme hostility toward the Shia-dominated Maliki government. Back in 2007–08, during the U.S. surge of troops to increase security and stability in Iraq, the local Sunni tribes aligned with the American forces to drive the jihadists out. Now the local Sunni tribes align with the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Sham to deny the Shia Maliki any authority.
Also, Iran’s expedient Al-Quds force, an elite wing of the country’s Revolutionary Guards, is making the best it can of the conflicting alliances within the Emirate. Iran supplies the jihadists with weapons, but it also supplies the landlocked local tribes with goods and access to markets. In return, Iran can continue to traverse the Emirate in order to reinforce its ally, Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus; it can also keep an eye on the hate-filled Salafists among the jihadists. Meantime, Iran’s relations with the Maliki government in Baghdad are secure.
Further, the de facto state of Kurdistan has not known such power since the end of the Ottoman Empire. With their oil wealth and the retreat of Maliki, the Kurds are so strong that they have not only the reach to secure the Kurdish northeastern corner of Syria from the jihadists, but they have also come to an accommodation with Turkey, in spite of the internal threat to Ankara from Kurdish dissent. 
Significantly, Russia favors the birth of the Emirate. The ethnocentric minorities get along with and even quietly tolerate the sub-state Sunni tribes to produce what a source describes as “grassroots stability.” What Moscow wants, my source contributes, is a “Fertile Crescent of the minorities.” What Moscow does not want is more centralized governments, aligned with the West, that batter the desperate populations, leading to resistance, spillover effects and transnational violence. At the same time, Moscow has opened a conversation with Riyadh as well as with Jerusalem and Cairo in order to create a working coalition with the strongest players of the region: the Iranians, the Saudis, the Israelis and the Egyptians. 
Russia knows the region lacks stability. As insurance, Moscow will continue to support Iran and its client state, Syria, as the lesser evils to Al-Qaeda. Russia most fears that the jihadists in the so-called Emirate of the Caucasus — who now threaten the Winter Olympics in Sochi — will link with the jihadists of the Arab heartland. One way for Moscow to maintain its own security is to remain in communication with the mix of the Emirate, Sunni and Shia as well as the minority groups.
Most striking is what the birth of the Emirate does to U.S. hopes in the region. It makes a mockery of the U.S. aim to negotiate a peace treaty to solve the Syrian civil war around a table of foreign ministers and Syrian factions. Syria as drawn by the Versailles Treaty makers no longer exists. Secretary of State John Kerry is singing a utopian tune in a region that has moved on from the nationalist ghosts of the last century.


Iran, Saudis Agree: Other Side’s Fighters Need to Leave Syria

Non-Syrians Should Leave Unless They're On the Right Side

by Jason Ditz, January 24, 2014
Everyone agrees that the big problem in the Syrian Civil War is all those pesky foreign fighters, and everyone agrees that a key step toward a solution would be the fighters who aren’t on their side should immediately go.
Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal was the first out of the gate, saying that Shi’ite militias from Lebanon and Iraq should be made to leave, via UN resolution if necessary. No mention was made of the huge armies of foreign Sunni Islamist fighters being bankrolled by the Saudis themselves.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s comment was a little less blatant, as he urged foreign fighters in general to leave, though with Iran openly supporting the aforementioned Shi’ite militias, the comments are clearly more centered around the Sunnis they’re fighting.
Iran’s version of the statement was non-specific enough that Jordan and Turkey, both backers of the Sunni side, were able to sign off on it unaltered, though likewise it is clear that for every nation the lesson is clear: foreign fighters who are on the other side should be leaving immediately, and their own side isn’t nearly as big of a problem.

Israel Frets Rise of al-Qaeda in Syria

30,000-Plus al-Qaeda Across the Border May Be a Problem

by Jason Ditz, January 24, 2014
For a long time, the Israeli government has simplified the Syrian Civil War down to the idea that the Assad government is allied to Iran and therefore bad, while the rebels are not allied with Iran, and therefore preferable.
That apparently looked good enough on paper, but in retrospect may have been a tad shortsighted, with Israeli intelligence officials coming to the growing realization that al-Qaeda might not be a great neighbor.
The officials put their estimate of al-Qaeda fighters in Syria at over 30,000, and expressed concern that “after Assad and after establishing or strengthening their foothold in Syria they are going to move and deflect their effort and attack Israel.”
It’s a reasonable concern because al-Qaeda has made no bones about not liking Israel, and rebels in Syria have made it clear that they see that country as the beginning of a regional and eventually global war. Israel may or may not be “next,” but they’re on the shortlist.
The bizarre part of this is that Israeli officials seem to just finally be noticing this problem, after quite some time insisting that anyone was better than Assad.

Syrian govt, opposition delegations agree to meet 'in the same room' Saturday

Published time: January 24, 2014 17:14
Edited time: January 24, 2014 21:17

United Nations Peace Envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi (Reuters / Mohamed Azakir)
United Nations Peace Envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi (Reuters / Mohamed Azakir)
Syria's government and opposition delegations have agreed to hold direct talks on Saturday, UN-Arab League Joint Special Representative to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi said, adding that the two sides recognize the principles of the Geneva 1 communique.
"Tomorrow we have agreed that we shall meet in same room," Brahimi told a news conference after he held separate meetings with government and opposition delegations in Geneva. "Both parties will be here tomorrow...they will not leave on Saturday or Sunday,"he said, adding that the discussions were "encouraging."
The envoy acknowledged, however, that core matters are yet to be discussed and that the resolution of the conflict will not be without its challenges. "I hope that they will go smoothly...we do expect some bumps on the road," he said."It's impossible that there aren't any in a situation like this."
Brahimi said he would steer Saturday’s meeting towards the humanitarian situation in Syria and accessing blocked areas.
The talks will be based on the Geneva Communique, he also said, that is on the June 2012 statement by world powers which called for the two sides to agree on the establishment of a transitional body. Brahimi stated that it is clear to both sides that the "meat" of the conference would be how do implement the dispositions of the pact.
"I think the two sides understand that very well and accept it," Brahimi said, while noting that "there are different interpretations on some of those items".
Still, the first session is expected to be mainly focused on "practical issues which will make discussions a little easier."
Although the overwhelming aim is the cessation of all violence, Brahimi underlined that there are those who do not share the same target.
"We are aware that there are parties inside Syria that do not support such a track," he said. "Nobody wants for terrorism to continue except terrorists themselves. Therefore if we manage to save Syria - saving Syria will be also saving it from terrorism."
Brahimi went on to express certain doubt over the tense talks. "I'm worried all the time," he said. "But I hope that it will be a good beginning."
Part of the confidence building measures will include a discussion over the next two days to provide humanitarian aid to the city of Homs, a hotspot of the armed Syrian crisis where rebels continue to battle government forces in the central districts.
"The practical aspects have been worked on, things are ready and if the government doesn't put a block on it then it could happen quickly," one source told Reuters.
Anas Absah, an opposition delegate, hailed the news that the government embraces Geneva principles.
"We are satisfied with Mr. Brahimi's statement today and that the regime has accepted Geneva 1 (communique). And on this basis we will meet the Assad delegation tomorrow morning. It will be a short session in which only Brahimi will speak, to be followed by another session, a longer session in the afternoon," Absah told Reuters.
Friday already saw some of its own challenges with Syrian Foreign Minister, Walid Muallem, threatening to walk out of peace talks shortly after they began. Muallem told Brahimi that he would leave the talks if “serious” discussions had not begun by Saturday.

Friday was initially supposed to have been the first day of the talks. However, neither side had been prepared to meet the other, Brahimi convened with government officials in the morning and the opposition in the afternoon before holding the bustling press conference. 
UN spokeswoman Alessandra Velluci told a briefing in Geneva earlier in the day: “This process is being shaped at the moment. It has to take time for the preparations. There are no Syrian-Syrian talks at the moment.”

Syrian opposition, the US attempt 'to scrap Geneva 2 talks and make them meaningless'

Published time: January 24, 2014 14:00
Reuters / Ammar Abdullah
Reuters / Ammar Abdullah
The Syrian opposition and the US government have placed a condition on the Assad government, which they know in advance will be impossible for it to meet, Brian Becker, Director at the Anti-war Answer Coalition, told RT.
RT: The opposition says it is ready to withdraw from the conference at any moment, what kind of signal does that send?
Brian Becker: The Syrian opposition has come to the conference kicking and screaming in the first place. They don’t really want to be there because there is nothing that they think that they can get from the conference. The Syrian opposition only wants one thing which is to replace Assad’s government with their own government; and clearly the Assad government at Geneva is prepared for a political settlement but won’t agree in advance that the Assad government will disappear and no longer be present in Syria. So the Syrian opposition and in fact the US government have placed a condition on the Assad government, which they know in advance will be impossible for the Assad government to meet. This is an attempt to scrap the talks and make the talks sort of meaningless.
RT: Both the opposition and its Western backers want to form an interim government without Assad. Damascus wants to focus on tackling terrorism. Given these differences, can such fundamental differences be bridged?
BB: I don’t think so. The US government and the NATO allies and their proxies in the region - Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey - they expected long ago that the Assad government would fall based on the coordinated international effort that funneled guns and money into Syria. But they are failing, and so we see Geneva 2 as trying to go along the Geneva road map for the negotiated settlement, but the Assad government doesn't feel that it’s militarily defeated, in fact, it’s secure right now not only militarily, and he has big popular support. I don’t think the contours that are demanded by the West and the Syrian opposition is for Assad to go - Assad is not going.
Louai Safi, spokesman of Syria's opposition National Coalition, briefs reporters at the "Geneva II" peace talks in Geneva on January 24, 2014. (AFP Photo / Philippe Desmazes)
Louai Safi, spokesman of Syria's opposition National Coalition, briefs reporters at the "Geneva II" peace talks in Geneva on January 24, 2014. (AFP Photo / Philippe Desmazes)

RT: Just one part of the opposition is present in the negotiations, if any deal is reached, other rebel groups won't accept it, will they?
BB: No, you can see that there are forces within the Syrian armed opposition, those affiliated with Al-Qaeda, those who are getting the bulk of their arms from Saudi Arabia and from other regimes in the Middle East. They are there in order to create an Islamic state, they don’t look for a negotiated settlement, they are not going to agree on a negotiated settlement. So it’s not possible for the Syrian government to see the Syrian opposition as a real partner for negotiations, when there are two armed wings fighting each other, and fighting the Assad government. One wing is determined in advance that they will never agree to some sort of transition that allows the Ba’ath party to remain in power in any shape or form.
RT: How do you assess the UN decision to withdraw its invitation to Iran? Do you agree it was necessary to guarantee the participation of the Syrian opposition?
BB: It just shows how duplicitous this whole project is, and how the United States is behind the scenes, the ultimate arbiter of what happened. The United Nations authorized and invited the Iranian government to participate, the US screamed and howled and said “no”, within 24 hours the UN changed its line and disinvited Iran. It shows that the UN has become nothing more than a fig leaf for United States in those instances where the US is calling the shots, and when it’s becoming truly independent, as happened at the earlier stages of Syrian crisis, the US just said “We don’t want to listen to the UN.” So what is it really if it cannot stand up to the United States?
RT: Do you think Iran's exclusion is likely to undermine the talks?
BB: You cannot talk about a regional settlement of a major problem in the Middle East and exclude Iran, including sanctioning of Iran, the constant threats on Iran. Even now Iran clearly doesn't have a nuclear weapons program, and clearly wanted to participate in a negotiated settlement in the country that it has a great deal of interest in, and is a principle supporter of the Assad government. The fact that the US wants Iran out of the picture shows that the US has the politics of empire, that only they will be the arbiter of the final outcomes in this oil-rich, resource-rich part of the world.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

Syria delegation to leave Geneva if no ‘serious sessions’ before Saturday

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said on Friday that if no serious work sessions were held by Saturday, the government delegation would leave, Reuters reported. “If no serious work sessions are held by [Saturday], the official Syrian delegation will leave Geneva due to the other side's lack of seriousness or preparedness,”state television quoted Muallem as telling UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi. Brahimi and a Syrian government delegation reportedly met on Friday at the UN in Geneva. The mediator is due to meet the Syrian opposition delegation later on Friday.

Syrian Officials, Opposition to Meet at Geneva Talks

UN Special Envoy Negotiates Deal for Sensitive Talks

by Jason Ditz, January 23, 2014
United Nations Special Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi has been engaged in behind-the-scenes negotiations with the participants in the Geneva II peace conference, especially those who have already walked out during the first day.
The negotiations have borne some fruit now, and Syrian government officials have agreed to Friday talks with the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) rebels.
Not that this amounts to some major breakthrough, and the Friday talks will continue with an extremely limited agenda, as officials try to get the sides comfortable with talking to one another.
Still, this is the first thing about Geneva II that has remotely resembled progress, and Brahimi said that the talks could extend into next week as a result. Other observers say that the entire process is likely to take months.
The biggest struggle is that while the Syrian government had been on the books attending months ago, the SNC didn’t agree to until this week, and then saw their coalition split in half with opponents of the talks walking out. This didn’t give the UN a lot of advance time to meet with the delegates to find out their positions, and all of that prep work is now being done at the conference instead.


Kerry Threatens to Attack Iran If Deal Violated

Can't Get Through Defense of Nuclear Deal Without Talking Up War

by Jason Ditz, January 23, 2014
Like most US diplomats, Secretary of State John Kerry is surely familiar with the formula of angrily condemning Iran and threatening war for perceived or future slights. One might even call it second nature.
But even with Kerry trying to talk up the merits of a nuclear deal with Iran in an al-Arabiya interview, he couldn’t get through the whole thing without threatening “the military option” against Iran.
Kerry said the US military is poised to attack Iran at any moment if they try to continue enrichment of uranium beyond permitted levels, a threat which would’ve made a lot more sense if the IAEA hadn’t already confirmed days ago that Iran has halted that enrichment and is complying with the deal.
Kerry went on to demand Iran stop all support for Hezbollah, saying they were prepared to “engage with Iran on other issues,” but that attacking Iran will always remain a possibility.


Obama ‘Disagrees’ With Oversight Report on NSA Illegality

Spokesman: We Simply Disagree

by Jason Ditz, January 23, 2014
The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is just the latest in a series of reports from experts issuing a report declaring thje NSA’s telephone metadata program illegal, unconstitutional, and totally unnecessary.
President Obama has tried his darnedest to ignore such reports in the past, even when they came from review panels he appointed. There’s no ignoring this one, however.
The White House responded to a 238 page report filled with legal and constitutional arguments about the crimes of bulk surveillance with a statement saying President Obama “simply disagrees.”
Instead of addressing the concerns of legal experts, constitutional experts, and privacy advocates, the White House referred people to the ruling of a single federal judge, who said 9/11 made essentially anything President Obama wants to do “reasonable” and therefore constitutional.

Snowden Rules Out Return To US Even As Privacy Watchdog Concludes NSA Spying Was/Is Illegal

Tyler Durden's picture

As if the fact that the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board found the NSA's bulk telephone collection "has shown minimal value in safeguarding the nation from terrorism," the 238-page report concluded it was illegal in several ways and violates privacy. Coincidentally, on the day of the release of the 9/11 Commission-prompted report, Edward Snowden (in an online chat) stated, "It's not good for our country, it's not good for the world, and I wasn't going to stand by and watch it happen, no matter how much it cost me." Indeed, one wonders if this would have ever come to light; but now following these findings that the program is not authorized by the Patriot Act the panel may give ammunition to critics in Congress and fuel legal challenges presenting a problem for President Obama who said last week (instead of waiting for the report) that he would allow the program to continue.

The report's findings are damning (via Yahoo)...
report released by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board concluded the NSA's huge phone metadata program is illegal in several ways, and provides little or no value to the fight against terrorism.

The 238-page report said the program "has shown minimal value in safeguarding the nation from terrorism."

And the panel said the program is not authorized by the Patriot Act, the law passed following the attacks of September 11, 2001.

It said it violates constitutional guarantees of free speech and protection against unreasonable searches, and also fails to comply with a federal privacy law.

Moreover, it said the program threatens to have "debilitating consequences for journalism"because "sources in a position to offer crucial information about newsworthy topics may remain silent out of fear that their telephone records could be used to trace their contacts."

The report also said the NSA stretches the interpretation of what may be "relevant" to a terrorism investigation.

The board, which was set up to create safeguards for privacy and civil liberties for stepped-up anti-terrorism efforts, rejected the notion the NSA program could have prevented the 9/11 attacks.

But the politicians and their lackeys are defending it (via Bloomberg)...
Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and chairman of the intelligence committee, has defended the collection of bulk phone records as necessary to stop terrorism and vowed to fight efforts to end it.

Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican and chairman of the House intelligence committee, who has been supportive of the surveillance tools, seized on lack of unanimity on the board in an e-mailed statement today.

In 38 times over the past seven years, 17 federal judges have examined this issue and found the telephone metadata program to be legal, concluding this program complies with both the statutory text and with the U.S. Constitution,” Rogers said. “I don’t believe the Board should go outside its expertise to opine on the effectiveness of counterterrorism programs.”

Stewart Baker, a former NSA general counsel, downplayed the legal impact of the report.
“I think you can fairly describe it as an amicus brief written by three people,” said Baker, now with Steptoe & Johnson LLP in Washington. “This is free advice to the court from a board that doesn’t have any particular expertise on the legal issues.”

Edward Snowden praised the report's findings in an online chat today via Free Snowden webste:
"it's time to end "bulk collection"which is a euphemism for mass surveillance. There is no simple justification for continuing an unconstitutional policy with a 0% success rate. In light of another independent confirmation of this fact, i think Americans should look to the White House and Congress to close the book entirely on the 215BR provision."

"The hundred-year old law under which I've been charged... forbids a public interest defense," he said in a question-and-answer session.

"This is especially frustrating, because it means there's no chance to have a fair trial, and no way I can come home and make my case to a jury."

Snowden, who has been granted temporary asylum in Russia, said the report supports his contention that the NSA programs violate US laws and the constitution.

He added that the NSA is "setting a precedent that immunizes the government of every two-bit dictator to perform the same kind of indiscriminate, dragnet surveillance of entire populations that the NSA is doing."

"It's not good for our country, it's not good for the world, and I wasn't going to stand by and watch it happen, no matter how much it cost me."


"The reactions of those I told about the scale of the constitutional violations ranged from deeply concerned to appalled, but no one was willing to risk their jobs, families, and possibly even freedom."

But the finds of the report could still be a problem for the President (via Bloomberg)...
In December, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon, in Washington, ruled that the program probably violates privacy rights...

The report “lends enormous weight” to Leon’s ruling

In line with the conclusion of the panel’s majority, Leon, who allowed a lawsuit against the NSA to proceed, said he wasn’t convinced at this point that “the NSA’s database has ever truly served the purpose of rapidly identifying terrorists in time-sensitive investigations.”

“It’s clear that momentum is building and more and more people are coming to appreciate how truly threatening and intrusive some of these bulk collection programs can be,” Black said in an interview.

The bombshell of the report’s central conclusion may explain why Obama decided to announce his proposals on Jan. 17, before the panel’s report was made public. Obama defended U.S. electronic spying as a bulwark against terrorism.

I do not think we should just accept bulk collection as a given,” Jim Dempsey, speaking for the panel’s majority, said today at a meeting where the report was adopted. “We have to go back to the fundamental question: should we be collecting bulk data and under what standards?”

The board’s conclusions present a challenge for President Barack Obama, who is being pressed by phone and Internet companies, foreign governments, civil libertarians and some members of Congress to restructure the NSA’s surveillance activities following disclosure of the programs by former government contractor Edward Snowden.

The privacy panel has no authority to change the programs and Obama last week presented his own plan without waiting for the board’s reportThe president said he would continue to allow government use of bulk phone records yet would prevent NSA from storing the data and require the agency get court approval to use it.

We leave it to Mr. Snowden to sum up the future:
Do you think it is possible for our democracy to recover from the damage NSA spying has done to our liberties? #AskSnowden

Yes. What makes our country strong is our system of values, not a snapshot of the structure of our agencies or the framework of our laws. We can correct the laws, restrain the overreach of agencies, and hold the senior officials responsible for abusive programs to account.

Full Q&A Chat With Edward Snowden

Drone Wars of Obama ........

Drone Warfare

More than 2,400 dead as Obama’s drone campaign marks five years


Obama de Souza April 2013

Obama has launched over 390 covert drone strikes in his first five years in office (Pete Souza/White House).
Five years ago, on January 23 2009, a CIA drone flattened a house in Pakistan’s tribal regions. It was the third day of Barack Obama’s presidency, and this was the new commander-in-chief’s first covert drone strike.
Initial reports said up to ten militants were killed, including foreign fighters and possibly a ‘high-value target’ – a successful first hit for the fledgling administration.
But reports of civilian casualties began to emerge. As later reports revealed, the strike was far from a success. At least nine civilians died, most of them from one family. There was one survivor, 14-year-old Fahim Qureshi, but with horrific injuries including shrapnel wounds in his stomach, a fractured skull and a lost eye, he was as much a victim as his dead relatives.
Ob1 - Fahim Qureshi - Vocativ GrabLater that day, the CIA attacked again – and levelled another house. It proved another mistake, this time one that killed between five and ten people, all civilians.
Obama was briefed on the civilian casualties almost immediately and was ‘understandably disturbed’, Newsweek reporter Daniel Klaidman later wrote. Three days earlier, in his inauguration address, Obama had told the world ‘that America is a friend of each nation, and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity.’
Fahim Qureshi, injured in the first Obama strike
The Pakistani government also knew civilians had been killed in the strikes. A record of the strikes made by the local political administration and published by the Bureau last year listed nine civilians among the dead. But the government said nothing about this loss of life.
Yet despite this disastrous start the Obama administration markedly stepped up the use of drones. Since Obama’s inauguration in 2009, the CIA has launched 330 strikes on Pakistan – his predecessor, President George Bush, conducted 51 strikes in four years. And in Yemen, Obama has opened a new front in the secret drone war.
Lethal strikes
Across Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, the Obama administration has launched more than 390 drone strikes in the five years since the first attack that injured Qureshi – eight times as many as were launched in the entire Bush presidency. These strikes have killed more than 2,400 people, at least 273 of them reportedly civilians.
Although drone strikes under Obama’s presidency have killed nearly six times as many people as were killed under Bush, the casualty rate – the number of people killed on average in each strike – has dropped from eight to six under Obama. The civilian casualty rate has fallen too. Strikes during the Bush years killed nearly more than three civilians in each strike on average. This has halved under Obama (1.43 civilians per strike on average). In fact reported civilian casualties in Pakistan have fallen sharply since 2010, with no confirmed reports of civilian casualties in 2013.

The decline in civilian casualties could be because of reported improvements in drone and missile technology, rising tensions between Pakistan and the US over the drone campaign, and greater scrutiny of the covert drone campaign both at home and abroad.
Presidents Pakistan
Obama has sharply escalated the drone campaign in Pakistan.

The apparent change in targeting  is well demonstrated by comparing a strike carried out by the Bush administration in 2006 and one seven years later under Obama. On October 30 2006 at least 68 children were killed when CIA drones destroyed a madrassa – a religious school – in the Bajaur area of Pakistan’s tribal belt. The attack was reportedly targeting then-al Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al Zawahiri. He escaped. On November 21 last year, drones again targeted a madrassa, this time in Hangu, outside the tribal regions. As many as 80 students were sleeping in the building. But the strike destroyed a specific portion of the building – just one or two rooms – and killed between six and nine people.

In Yemen, however, civilians continue to die in US drone strikes. Last year saw the highest civilian casualty rate since Obama first hit the country in 2009.

In recent years drones have come to dominate Obama’s war in Yemen as much as in Pakistan.
Drones were not the first weapon the administration turned to when it started to attack the country. On December 17 2009 a US Navy submarine launched a cluster bomb-laden cruise missile at a suspected militant camp in al Majala, southern Yemen.
The missile slammed into a hamlet hitting one of the poorest tribes in Yemen. Shrapnel and fire left at least 41 civilians dead, including at least 21 children and 12 women – five of them were pregnant. A week earlier President Obama had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He used his acceptance speech to defend the use of force at times as ‘not only necessary but morally justified’. He warned that ‘negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms’.
Strikes in Pakistan are carried out by the CIA. But in Yemen the CIA and the US military’s special forces unit, Joint Special Operations Command, have used various weapons including drones and conventional jets as well as cruise missiles to target al Qaeda militants.

However in recent years drones have come to dominate Obama’s war in Yemen as much as in Pakistan. President Bush ordered a single drone strike in Yemen, killing six people in 2002. Under Obama, the CIA and the Pentagon have launched at least 58 drone strikes on the country killing more than 281 people, including at least 24 reported civilians.
Opaque operations
The escalation in the drone war has happened with almost no official transparency from the White House. It took Obama three years to publicly mention his use of drones. In January 2012 he said ‘actually drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties’. He added: ‘For the most part they have been very precise, precision strikes against al Qaeda and affiliates.’

In this period Bureau records show drones reportedly killed at least 236 civilians – including 61 children. And according to a leaked CIA record of drone strikes, seen by the McClatchy news agency, the US often did not know who it was killing. In the year after September 2010 at least 265 of up to 482 people were recorded as the documents as killed by drones ‘were “assessed” as Afghan, Pakistani and unknown extremists’.

A letter written by Attorney General Eric Holder and leaked to NBC confirmed drones had killed four US citizens living abroad. US citizen Anwar al Awlaki died in a missile strike in Yemen on September 30 2011. His 16-year-old son Abdulrahman, who was born in Detroit, was killed in a separate strike two weeks later.

In April 2013 a leaked Department of Justice memo outlined the administration’s legal justification for such killings: the US has the right to kill US citizens if they pose an imminent threat, it said. It added that determining a citizen poses an imminent threat ‘does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on US persons and interests will take place in the immediate future’. Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union described the memo as a ‘chilling document’.

For the most part they have been very precise, precision strikes against al Qaeda and affiliates- President Obama
The following month President Obama made a major policy speech in which he codified the rules his administration must follow as it selects targets for drone strikes and special forces teams.
The rules are meant to constrain the use of drones. Obama said the US only carries out such attacks against individuals who pose ‘a continuing and imminent threat’ to US citizens, not ‘to punish individuals’. Obama acknowledged drone strikes had killed civilians, saying: ‘For me, and those in my chain of command, those deaths will haunt us as long as we live.’ And he added: ‘Before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured – the highest standard we can set’.
However Bureau analysis shows more people were killed in Pakistan and Yemen in the six months after the speech than the six months before. And the casualty rate also rose over the same period.

In 2013, there were no confirmed civilian casualties in Pakistan – the first year of the drone campaign that this was the case. But in Yemen, the year ended with mass civilian casualties. On December 12, JSOC drones attacked a convoy taking a bride to her wedding. The attack destroyed several vehicles and flying shrapnel killed up to 15 civilians. It was the biggest single loss of civilian life from a US strike for more than a year. The Yemeni government initially claimed al Qaeda militants were killed. But the Yemeni government quickly negotiated reparations with the families of the victims, sending them $140,000 and 100 rifles. The US has not commented on the strike, but in an unprecedented move Washington is carrying out an investigation.

Afghanistan and Pakistan items ....

The attack on a popular Lebanese restaurant on Friday in Kabul has increased doubts and uncertainty regarding the safety of foreigners in Afghanistan. According to reports, a number of international employers have stopped allowing their staff members going to restaurants.
A number of restaurant owners in Kabul have said that after last week's attack, their business has been slow and they are ready to leave the restaurant industry in Afghanistan all together. 
In an insecure country like Afghanistan, where situations are always complicated and no one can predict the near future, restaurants are a suitable place to spend time and have meals.
Sufi restaurant is one of many restaurants in Kabul, opened 12 years ago. This restaurant has served local and international guests during these years but after the Friday night attack on Lebanese restaurant, silence has taken over the usual in and out of guests in the restaurant.
But there very limited people who want to stand against all the threats, and fight the fear by ordering regular Chay (tea).
"I believe if you are afraid in this country, you should leave. I have never had any security personally, and as I mentioned before, the best security is low profile. I believe that when it's your time, it's your time," said Samiran Kar Lunes, founder of Afghan Trade Services.
The attack on the restaurant was among the most brutal attacks in the past 12 years on civilian foreigners in Afghanistan.
"95 percent of our business is affected and after the attack on the Lebanese restaurant, only have one or two guests every night," said Muhammad Aazam Popal, Sufi restaurant owner.
Not only restaurants but it seems like even stores are not safe from terror attacks, because after the attack on Finest Supermarket in Kabul, now many of the stores have armored doors with many armed guards.


Part of controversial judicial bill to be ‘frozen’: Turkish PM Erdoğan


Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan speaks to reporters in Ankara, Jan 24, after the Friday Prayers. AA photo
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan speaks to reporters in Ankara, Jan 24, after the Friday Prayers. AA photo
The government will freeze some articles in a controversial bill reshaping the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Jan. 24, shortly after a government official mulled that the draft could be “suspended.”

Erdoğan, however, said the government had no intention of entirely withdrawing the bill and could submit the articles in question to the General Assembly once more if necessary.

“Withdrawing the bill on the HSYK is out of the question. We would have wished that the legislation on the HSYK could have been made through a constitutional amendment. I made my due call to the opposition. My deputy parliamentary group chairs have visited them. But no positive outcome came from there,” Erdoğan told reporters in Ankara in reference to the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) proposition last week to reach an agreement for a constitutional amendment, but the move was ultimately rejected by opposition parties.

“We will complete the vote on the Justice Academy. We will freeze the other parts of the law for now. But if there is a necessity, we could submit them again to the General Assembly in the future,” he said.

Erdoğan also said President Abdullah Gül, who intervened in the political impasse by meeting all the opposition leaders and striving for a consensual charter change, did not demand the government backtrack from the much-debated reform during a meeting on Jan. 23.

“We have extensively discussed this issue with the president. He has not made a demand to withdraw the bill,” Erdoğan said.

Shortly earlier, AKP deputy head Mustafa Şentop said the possibility of freezing the draft bill was being “assessed” after rumors spread on a weekend recess on parliamentary sessions, which would mean the suspension of debates on the controversial reform.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said suspending the bill was the “right decision.”

Debates at Parliament on Jan. 23 were marked by fresh brawls and fistfights. CHPdeputy Bülent Tezcan was injured after being punched by AKP deputy Oktay Saral while he was making a speech questioning why Erdoğan’s son, Bilal Erdoğan, had not testified as part of the graft probe.

Erdoğan criticized the opposition over the fight, denouncing “provocations. “Saying these words against the prime minister from the stand of the General Assembly is a provocation. The cause provokes consequences. Everyone should avoid such provocations,” Erdoğan said.

The massive graft scandal, which was launched last month with raids implicating four ministers, produced a debate on the judiciary, as the government moved to increase its control over the key judicial body.

Lambsdorff: PM's explanations on corruption cases were not convincing

Read Comment
Add to Google
European Parliament Liberal Group Vice Chairman Alexander Graf Lambsdorff (Photo: Cihan)
The vice-chairman of the Liberal Group in the European Parliament, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, who represented his group in the meeting with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday, said he was not convinced by the arguments put forward by the Turkish prime minister to explain the corruption cases which erupted on Dec. 17 and the unfolding events afterwards.
The German politician, who is also his group's shadow rapporteur on Turkey, said the prime minister's theories were not “proper arguments.”
Lambsdorff, who was present at the heated debate with Erdoğan in the European Parliament and posed questions to the Turkish prime minister, said in an interview with Today's Zaman that he was not convinced by his arguments for basically two reasons.
Stating that Erdoğan had in length talked about the success of the Turkish economy and said the fact that the Turkish economy had quadrupled in the last decade was proof of the lack of corruption, Lambsdorff said this was “unconvincing.” Erdoğan's argument that the removal of so many police officers and prosecutors was the result of normal procedures was also not helpful, according to Lambsdorff. “This gives the impression that there is interference in the judiciary. It does not look normal,” he said, stressing that they were “very concerned” about the independence of the judiciary, the separation of powers and the rule of law and would closely monitor developments regarding the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK).
The German Liberal said Erdoğan seemed very confident of himself and that he believed the Turkish prime minister might not have an accurate analysis of the real situation in Turkey in terms of the independence of the judiciary, press freedoms and Internet regulations, just to name a few of the problems. Lambsdorff raised the question of why Erdoğan had to change almost half of his Cabinet if no corruption had taken place. “It will be very surprising for a country like Turkey coming from a modest economic background not to have corruption when it grows so fast. In such cases, corruption does not get less, but on the contrary. It will be surprising if there is no corruption at all. It is natural,” he said.
Stressing that Erdoğan was mistaken in his analysis both by comparing Turkey with other emerging markets and by the fact that so many high-ranking public officials had to resign, he said, “We got the impression that he is not prepared to agree to pursue corruption charges.”
Referring to the Gezi Park incidents of last summer, Lambsdorff said it was worrying to see once more Erdoğan calling Gezi Park demonstrators “terrorists.” “We followed what happened in Gezi and I do not share his analysis. Calling all those people ‘terrorists' is unacceptable,” he said.
He added that they had the impression that Erdoğan was really determined to fight against the Hizmet movement, a civil movement inspired by Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, and that Hizmet was clearly his target.
Lambsdorff also said they have tabled an amendment for the Turkey progress report prepared by Dutch Christian Democrat Ria Oomen-Ruijten calling on the Hizmet movement to improve its transparency.
The Brussels-based Intercultural Dialogue Platform (IDP), whose honorary President is Mr. Fethullah Gülen, made a statement last Monday announcing its support for the Liberals' amendment concerning the Hizmet movement.

Turkish lira continues losing streak; hits 2.307 against dollar

Read Comment
Add to Google
Photo: Reuters, Murad Sezer
The lira reached a new record low against the dollar at 2.307 on Friday, increasing pressure on the central bank to intervene in the market with more forex sales to halt the slide.
The central bank left interest rates on hold and on Wednesday it failed to meet market expectations for earlier and longer additional tightening, triggering further losses in the currency.

Turkey's lira weakened as far as 2.307 against the dollar by Friday morning from 2.28 late on Thursday. Around the same time, the euro hit a new record high at 3.152 against the ailing lira.

A corruption scandal shaking the government and fears about the impact of cuts to US monetary stimulus have sent the lira down 10 percent against the dollar over the past month, and investors had been crying out for a rate hike to defend it.